A complete car ready for the gleaming showroom floor has gone through years of meticulous research and development to get there, design, engineering, cooperation with hundreds (or even thousands) of suppliers, factory tooling, and finally manufacture.
Just one aspect of a new vehicle’s life, such as design, takes typically three years from the first sketch to the final model approval. That’s how long it took Gorden Wagener, the Mercedes-Benz head of design, and his team to come up with the new A-Class.
During this time a car model goes through continuous processes and advancements until it reaches a stage where its designers, as well as the bean-counters, engineering departments, manufacturing (it’s much more expensive to tool machines to produce complex geometrical shapes than it is to press a flat panel), countless marketing focus groups, and also the dealers.
the new A-Class as an example, here are the 11 steps Wagener and his Mercedes-Benz design team took to get to the finishing line:
1. Drawing/Rendering: A simple sketch always starts things off. This is normally just a profile silhouette, hand sketched on a piece of paper like in the good old days of design. This is the first step of the designer’s imagination coming to life. A company’s design team may also call for submissions from every one of its designers in world-wide studios, and then pick one idea to develop.
2. Package: A car’s technical requirements may be very different to the designer’s wishes. Can you package a rear-wheel drive layout into this design? Will the transversely mounted engine fit into this small and aerodynamic frontal area? The design and engineering departments now start working more closely together in order for the sketches to implement the desired dimensions, as well as aesthetic proportions.
3. 1:4 clay model: Computers and paper drawing can only tell the design team so much. The next step is to construct a clay model – manufacturers have been working with versatile and flexible clay for their models since the Twenties – of every design option of the new car. That’s the only true way designers can get an idea of a three-dimensional effect.
4. Model selection: After the small clay models designers are able to pick one choice for further and final development.
5. 1:1 model: Designers work by hand, like craftsmen, to create full-size clay models of the car and create something that would fool a casual observer for the real thing.
6. Interior sketches: By now, nobody has done anything about the interior, so the team turns its attention to first sketches and computer renderings of the cabin. Already, outside departments are thinking about things such as equipment lines and specifications interior levels.
7. Interior clay model: So that the company can make a final decision, the designers create a full-size clay model of the interior, inside out, offering three or four detailed options to get a concluding answer.
8. Colour & trim/operating and display concept: Only at this point in the game will the designers choose material and colour options for the car’s interior. They have hundreds of fabrics and leather samples at their disposal, and teams scouring the globe for interesting new textures to use. The studio will also develop all the control and display elements for the dash.
9. Interior data control model: You can’t cover a dashtop in a fancy wood trim sourced from the Andes if it is brittle and fades easily in the sun. All the materials and colours now have to be extensively tested under “real-life conditions" to ensure they withstand the test of time.
10. Final model: For the first time, the interior is married with the body design to create a realistic representation of the final model. This is the first time the future car is viewed in its complete form.
11. Model approval: Now the management board has to give its green light, otherwise three years of sweat and toil can go straight into the bin. Thankfully, when it comes to the Mercedes-Benz A-Class, the model was approved, and it’s now well on its way to production, the showroom, and then your driveway.